Chicago Blackhawks

Jones defines the student-athlete term

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Jones defines the student-athlete term

John Chico, who lives on the East Side, and Deandre Taylor, who comes from the Englewood community, enrolled at Jones College Prep because they felt they could obtain a better education than at their neighborhood schools. As a bonus, they could also play basketball.

Chico's older brother and Taylor's sister were Jones graduates. They recommended the school, which ranks No. 9 academically among all public schools in the state. It features a selective enrollment for its 820 students. The average ACT score is 25.5.

"It's hard to get into this school," said basketball coach and athletic director Frank Griseto. "We take them as freshmen and teach them that the commitment level has to be there for athletics like it is in academics. They don't go to college to play basketball. They are students first. But that doesn't lessen their commitment to be competitive. They are driven and focused. They want to be successful."

Like every student at Jones, Chico and Taylor balance sports and books. Chico, who also is an outstanding baseball player, wants to be a sports trainer or sports psychologist. Taylor wants to major in mechanical engineering in college.

They have collaborated on a basketball team that is 18-3 going into the Public League playoff. Not bad for some kids who played on a sophomore team that won only three games. In its last two outings, the newly crowned CPS Blue Central champion edged Tilden 70-66 as Taylor had 25 points and 12 rebounds and Dyett 55-53 as Chico scored 15 points.

"This is the best team I've had," said Griseto, comparing it to his 23-5 team in 2005 that lost to eventual state champion Hales Franciscan in the regional. "They are relentless on defense. They really are a team in every essence. They hang out together and socialize. They pride themselves as being as competitive as possible, academically and in sports."

In his 11th season as head coach, Griseto knows what it takes to build a winning program. A St. Rita graduate of 1970, he couldn't play basketball in high school because his father died when he was a sophomore and he had to go to work. He got bit by the coaching bug while playing basketball on the Union League boys club traveling team.

He coached baseball at Westinghouse, then basketball at Notre Dame, then basketball and baseball at St. Ignatius, then returned to Westinghouse to coach basketball and baseball from 1986 to 1998. His 1996 team went 29-5 and finished third in the Class AA tournament.

After assisting old friend and former Westinghouse coach Roy Condotti for one year at Homewood-Flossmoor, he landed at Jones. It has been quite a change from the time he had five Division I players at Westinghouse, played in the Red-West and contended for a state championship. But he is enjoying the challenge and the experience.

"The opportunity to come into a brand new school that was focusing on academics, to start something from scratch, was a challenge that I was anxious to accept," Griseto said. "They hadn't had teams before when it was Jones Commercial. I also helped to build baseball and cross-country programs. We want to be as competitive as we can."

Jones, located at 606 S. State Street, plays its home games in basketball, soccer and baseball at old Near North High School near Clybourn and Larrabee. Last fall, the boys cross-country team finished seventh in the state meet. And the baseball team has qualified for the Elite Eight in Class 3A in three of the last four years.

Griseto thinks his basketball team has what it takes to be more than competitive in the Class 3A sectional at St. Ignatius, which also includes the highly rated host school.

"I thought we could be pretty good this season," Griseto said. "They want to win and go out as seniors playing the best they can play. This is their chance to make a name for themselves."

He knows it isn't easy for a Blue Division team to compete against Red Division or Catholic League or suburban schools. He has been there. The difference is mostly about depth and athleticism, not calculus and physics.

"Two years ago, we played Marshall in the first game of the city playoff and got pounded. They went on to win state. Last year, we beat Kenwood in the first game, then lost to Harper," Griseto said. "But those teams weren't as good as this team. I tell them they have to get better with every game--and they have. We have made a lot of strides."

Griseto describes Chico and Taylor as his two mainstays. Chico, a 5-foot-10 senior point guard and a three-year starter, averages 16 points and eight assists per game. He is the team leader and a defensive catalyst.

Taylor, a 6-foot-2 senior, also is a three-year starter. He averages 17.5 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks per game. "He is our rock on defense," the coach said.

Other starters are 6-foot senior Jauquis Frazier-Buckman (7 ppg), 6-foot-4 senior Max Puidak (6 ppg, 8 rpg) and 5-foot-10 senior Courtney Copeland (16 ppg). Puidak is in his first year of basketball after being recruited off the baseball team by Griseto. Another baseball player, 5-foot-11 junior Vincent Lindsey, is the first player off the bench.

"The addition of Puidak has helped by giving us more size," Griseto said. "Lack of size has the potential to hurt us. We have to play defense and keep our opponents off the offensive boards. Our objective is to get a clean layup off the fast break."

It isn't a neighborhood team. The players come from the East Side, Englewood and Jefferson Park. But they hang out together between class periods or after school or they gather to eat wings at Harold's Chicken, a block from the school on Wabash Ave.

"We thought we'd be better than the past few years," Chico said. "We're a bunch of seniors who play hard, with passion and poise, work together and never quit. We're looking forward to playing against Red Division teams in the playoff. We're proud that we can be successful and let the underclassmen play in the Red next year. We've seen Simeon and Whitney Young. I wish we could play them to see where we stand."

So does Taylor, whose brother played at Bogan. He acknowledges that the addition of Puidak takes up space in the paint and relieves the pressure on him and his 32-inch vertical leap to get rebounds. And he agrees that the chemistry that his senior class has built up since their freshman year has been a key factor in their success.

"We've been together for four years. We don't have distractions from other classes," Taylor said. "And, yes, I recommend the wings at Harold's."

Five Things from Blackhawks-Blue Jackets: Shots and slashes

Five Things from Blackhawks-Blue Jackets: Shots and slashes

It’s preseason: you don’t need a lot of build-up. Let’s just delve right in, shall we?

1. Lots of shots, but…

The same Joonas Korpisalo that the Blackhawks’ youngsters scored five goals against on Tuesday was on top of his game on Saturday. The Blackhawks peppered him with 54 shots but only two got through, and the second was a 6-on-4 power-play goal in the final two minutes.

“I thought we could have gotten a little more traffic in front of him," Nick Schmaltz said. "I thought we were playing along the outside. I mean we had some great looks. He made some big saves. Some nights you get the bounces and some nights you don’t.”

2. Bérubé’s Blackhawks debut.

Jean-François Bérubé had a tough sequence early in the second period, when he gave up two goals in a 28-second span. This was against a Columbus team that didn’t send many of their top players. He also didn’t see a ton of action in this one; the Blue Jackets fired just 21 shots his way.

3. Growing pains.

Alex DeBrincat had his up and down moments on Saturday night. His turnover led to Columbus’ first goal, he took a slashing penalty and he fought the puck quite a bit. You still saw glimpses of that skill, though, especially with his quick release. Hey, he’s a 19-year-old guy getting his first taste of the NHL. Nights like this are going to happen.

“We all make mistakes,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “You gotta be safe in certain areas and you learn from that.”

4. Slash-o-meter.

Four more were called on Saturday night. Don’t be surprised if that number starts dwindling sooner rather than later, though, because the edict has apparently changed already. Sportsnet’s John Shannon reported earlier on Saturday that the league told officials to ease up on slashing and faceoff violations. But we all figure that’s going to happen once the regular season begins anyway, right?

5. Notre Dame bound.

The destination is familiar but the Blackhawks threw it into their second week of camp this season. It’ll be bonding time for the Blackhawks, who will send a smaller group for several practices there this week. Quenneville figures it’ll be a productive time. “We’ll get some bonding in, play golf together, have a nice outing, couple of road games and a nice campus.”

Nick Schmaltz's confidence, hold on second-line center, continues to grow

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USA TODAY

Nick Schmaltz's confidence, hold on second-line center, continues to grow

Nick Schmaltz seemed to be everywhere the puck was on Saturday night. Great pursuit of the puck, great passes to Patrick Kane or Alex DeBrincat and an all-around confidence that’s becoming more apparent by the game.

So has coach Joel Quenneville seen what he’s needed to from Schmaltz at second-line center?

“And more.”

It’s been a pretty impressive showing for Schmaltz this month. The 21-year-old has played in all three of the Blackhawks’ preseason games and keeps getting better in each one. The uncertainty Schmaltz understandably showed as a rookie is gone; the NHL game no longer feels uncomfortable.

“I feel like the game’s slowing down for me, just seeing plays,” Schmaltz said. “I know what I’m doing with the puck before I get it. It feels good and just trying to get better every day.”

Schmaltz and his fellow second liners didn’t connect for goals in the Blackhawks 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday but it wasn’t for lack of trying. The three combined for 12 of the Blackhawks’ 54 shots on goal – Kane and DeBrincat each had five – and the chemistry continues to build between the three.

Jonathan Toews talked on Saturday morning of how much more relaxed Schmaltz looks with the puck now, and that was evident again later that night.

“He’s really starting to get comfortable physically at this level,” Toews said. “He thinks the game so well, puts himself in good spots, much like Kaner where he can skate with the puck and use his speed. He has his head up so he backs guys off. Those two were making great plays tonight and Brinksy was fitting in well. They couldn’t buy a goal but Schmaltzy’s getting better and better, and you’re’ seeing that calm poise that he has really come out the more he gets comfortable.”

Schmaltz was likely getting a second-line audition in some capacity this fall; the original thought was at left wing in the wake of Artemi Panarin’s trade. But Schmaltz has always felt at his best at center. He’s showing that. And more.

“It’s always fun to play no matter if it’s preseason or regular season," he said. "I’m always happy to play, especially when you’re playing with great players. I feel like I’m more comfortable in the middle, able to use my speed a little bit more, create more offense that way.

"I think it’s going well. Wherever I end up, I’ll be happy.”